How To Eradicate Transgenderism From Public Life

American law only recently began to adopt the mistaken metaphysics of the transgender ideology.

Michael Knowles is seen on set of "Candace" on April 19, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee
Jason Davis/Getty Images

My recent call to eradicate transgenderism from public life has elicited shrieks and lies at every level of the liberal establishment, from activist organizations and the press — but I repeat myself — all the way up to the White House. And yet a week of invective and defamation has failed to produce even one substantive refutation of my argument. But of course: had the liberals been able to refute my argument, they would have felt no need to lie about what I said.

The liberals pretended that I called to eradicate “transgender people,” a dubious ontological category that nonetheless refers to real persons, when in fact I proposed the eradication of “transgenderism,” an ideology that weakens society and especially harms the poor people seduced by its false anthropology. Libel law soon forced the liberal news editors to change their defamatory headlines. But still the activists could not defend transgenderism, so the liberals retreated to their tried-and-true tactic of redefining words to control the political order.

“‘Transgenderism’ Is Just The Latest Example Of Anti-Trans Rhetoric,” wailed BuzzFeed, which quoted a Left-wing activist to argue that “transgenderism” is “a phony term made up by anti-transgender activists and used to dehumanize transgender people and target them, their lifesaving healthcare, and access to society.” That alleged phoniness and coinage by conservatives might surprise transgender activists themselves, who BuzzFeed later admitted had coined and popularized the term decades before it ever escaped the mouths of “anti-transgender activists.” Despite the historical incoherence and contradiction, the outlet made its point: everyone needs to stop talking about the ideology of transgenderism.

The liberals do not want us to examine transgenderism because its claims collapse under even the slightest pressure of scrutiny. Transgenderism posits that a person with all the physical signs of a man might really be a woman, and vice versa. This ideology explains the phenomenon in different, contradictory ways. The nominalist and materialist varieties of transgenderism hold that such an unexpected sexual identity arises through sheer tyranny of will: that is, that there is no meaningful, objective reality to the categories of “man” and “woman,” and so surgical mutilation or even simple assertion suffices to make a person male, female, or neither. This purely willful type of transgenderism fails to persuade because, while many modern people pretend not to believe in universals and the soul, most everyone lives as though there is more to life than mere matter. Indeed, if “man” and “woman” did not exist as meaningful categories, why would anyone undergo painful and expensive mutilations to resemble the opposite sex?

The more spiritual strains of transgenderism hold that an apparent man might really be a woman because of a conflict between his physical and metaphysical self: that he is a woman, for example, “trapped” inside a man’s body. According to this view, a person’s body has nothing to do with his true identity, which is instead purely metaphysical — the sort of thing we would traditionally call the soul. But can a person really be one sex in body and another in soul?

St. Thomas Aquinas, whose lead our civilization has traditionally followed on such questions, says no. According to St. Thomas, who himself followed Aristotle, physical entities comprise both form and matter in a hylomorphic union. The soul is the substantial form of the body. It is the intellectual principle that animates the body. And a person cannot be one sex in body while another in soul because the soul is not gendered. Men and women do not have different kinds of souls because such a difference would mean that men and women constitute different species — a notion that sometimes appears to be the case but is not in fact so. Men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. We are both from planet Earth, and we both are human.

Sexual difference therefore must come from the body rather than the soul and exist as an inseparable accident of the individual. Sexual identity, in other words, is a fact derived from our physical nature that does not define us but is nonetheless always present as long as we exist as particular individuals. This abstruse philosophical inquiry into the question of our age — that is, what is a woman? — leads us back to the simplest answer that might be elicited from any regular Joe walking down the street: a woman is a person with a female physical nature. A woman is more than her body; but a woman is at the very least her body.

Defenders of transgenderism reject this conception of the relation between body and soul, but they have yet to expound a persuasive alternative. Their hesitation is understandable; it takes a mighty confidence to contradict Aquinas and Aristotle. But other political movements in history have attempted just that, and with expectedly disastrous results. The Albigensians of the 11th and 12th centuries, for example, proposed the opposition of matter and form. According to the Albigensians’ gnostic, dualistic vision, two mutually opposed principles created the world: the good principle created the spiritual realm, while the evil principle created the material world.

Because ideas have consequences, this anti-materialist movement flourished and bore poisonous fruit. It redefined marriage and discouraged child-bearing. It promoted vegetarianism and in fact all consumption to the point of starvation. It encouraged divorce, suicide, and ultimately the extinction of the human race. Its ideas seem eerily to echo in our modern world. Fortunately, in the 13th century, more reasonable forces succeeded in suppressing this suicidal movement, which left unchecked and taken to its logical end must have destroyed civilization, which happily lived to see another day.

Some perhaps well-meaning people prefer a laissez-faire approach to delusional political movements. And a tolerant, pluralistic society can tolerate a great deal of diversity and eccentricity. But even the most tolerant, most pluralistic society cannot tolerate everything precisely because ideas have consequences, and those consequences affect other people. As the poet John Donne observed, “No man is an island entire of himself.” We live together in society, and societies must come to conclusions about certain fundamental matters and then enforce those conclusions through law, custom, and culture.

If transgenderism is true — if men might really be women — then women have no right, for example, to their own public bathrooms. If transgenderism is false, as it is, then women might well have the right to their own bathrooms, and men — even men who consider themselves women — have no right to enter them. The same goes for sports teams, single-sex schools, and all the other special rights and spaces that women long enjoyed until the transgender movement took them away.

American law only recently began to adopt the mistaken metaphysics of the transgender ideology. Barack Obama and liberal activists in North Carolina kicked off the trend in 2015 through military policy and bathrooms ordinances. Already, after just eight years, we see its poisonous fruit: skyrocketing rates of transgender identification among children, who have been mutilated and castrated to affirm the false anthropology, as well as subsequent soaring rates of “transition” regret among children who trusted their parents, teachers, and doctors not to mislead them into irreversible damage; the preventable rape of girls by men in women’s bathrooms, two such cases of which led a rightly angry public to elect a new governor in Virginia; the theft of girls’ awards and scholarships by men who naturally overpower them in every sport; and so on.

No society need tolerate the inevitably disastrous consequences of nonsense. Our own country could once again eradicate transgenderism from public life with no more than a few tweaks to the law: the overturning of some recent statutes and regulations alongside the overruling of a recent Supreme Court decision that abolished civil rights on the basis of sex in favor of civil license on the basis of incoherent “gender identity.” Civilization has overcome similarly rotten ideas after longer periods of license. But as long as those ideas are allowed to fester, worse consequences will follow. Such is the nature of bad ideas made manifest.

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